–Joy from Joy in This Journey
I’m going to do a little naked writing here.
It’s not really what I want to do, but it seems to be what God is putting on my heart to share with you.
This weekend I attended a women’s conference at a church one mile from my home. This is not the church I normally attend. I’m not even sure how I stumbled across the information about the event, but I signed up for it at the last minute, got up early on Saturday, grabbed my Bible and headed out the door. Alone.
The theme of the event was Sisterhood. It was all about community, and relationship– about how God created us in His image and He is a relational God, existing in constant triune fellowship. For us to be created in His image,therefore, means we are made for relationship, which is why we crave it so desperately.
I’ve heard it before, this idea of being made for community, and I do believe it.
Yet for some reason I always think God will give me a pass on this one.
You see, I was the little girl who was so shy that she wouldn’t speak to or look at anyone.
I was the pre-adolescent who could sing on a stage in front of a crowd, but couldn’t figure out how to fit in at school.
I was the high school sophomore who spent an entire school year eating lunch (or skipping lunch) in the band hall because I didn’t know who to sit with in the cafeteria. And I was too afraid to try and meet anyone new.
I was the high school senior who did a partner project for government class by myself, risking a lower grade (even though grades were uber-important to me!) rather than take the risk of asking someone to be my partner.
I was the young 20-something who couldn’t stand up for myself and just say no when no was necessary, because I was worried people wouldn’t like me, or that they might think I was flaky.
And now I’m the 44-year old wife and mom who won’t call the other moms with kids the same age as mine because I just know they already have friends and they wouldn’t much like adding me to their group anyway.
The speaker at the conference this weekend talked about hiding places and escape hatches. She challenged us to identify our own personal escape hatches. In other words, what familiar route do you take when you need to hide yourself from others?
She didn’t have to go much further before I knew. I keep others at a distance. I marginalize. I push everyone out to arm’s length because I’m so certain that if I let anyone in, if they get too close, they will reject me.
I walk around pretending that I have close friends, somewhere, because how pathetic would that be? A 44-year old woman with no close friends but her sister? And I’m not downplaying my sister because she’s a huge encouragement and support to me. I need my sister!
But I keep everyone else at a distance.
I pride myself on being a good listener, on taking everything in. But I don’t like for anyone to see how I’m really doing on the inside. There’s still that part of me that feels like I need to seem “together” or people won’t like me.
I really need to get over myself.
At least that’s what I figured out this weekend.
I am admitting this to anyone who reads, to what seems like the whole world, and it feels like I am undressing in front of you:
I am very, very lonely.
It makes me cry just to type those words. But to actually admit it to the world. . . well. . .
Excuse me. I need a moment.
For those of you who are my friends, I must confess to you. I haven’t really let you in. I’m so sorry. We could be closer if I didn’t push you away. All this time I’ve made assumptions about you. I assumed that you didn’t really want to be close to me. That you had better things to do with your time. That you already had enough close friends in your life.
Those were all cop-outs.
It was me and my pride all along. I let fear of rejection keep me safe and the price I’ve paid is loneliness and middle-aged alone-ness.
I wasn’t always like this. As a girl, even as a young woman, I had enough close friends to keep me connected. I forced myself during my single 20s to get out there and to get close to people. It wasn’t exactly comfortable for me, but it was necessary and I knew it.
But then I met a handsome man and he became my world, and once marriage and kids took over I guess I thought that was relationship enough. Life was busy and hectic and the days were long, and the next thing I knew I looked up and 15 years had passed. Now the kids are at school all day and the husband is at work all day and I have housework and laundry and piano playing and teaching and kids’ schedules to run my life.
And at the end of the day all I really wish is that I had one good friend.
That conference I attended Saturday was a real kick in the rear.
While I was there, I didn’t just clam up and stay to myself. No, I did my normal thing. I mustered up a smile and I talked to other women plenty. I can do that. Those of you who know me personally are probably wondering right about now if I do indeed have a split personality.
“What’s she talking about? She never stops talking?” may be the thoughts crossing your mind.
But the truth is, I’m very good at making conversation around people because I’ve learned it like a skill. The same way I learned to drive a car.
So here’s the challenge: what do I do about it? Do I hole up in my closet and ask Jesus one more time if he can please heal me and work in me and bless me and make just this one exception, that I do this messy work with just him and me and not have to get others involved? Could I just volunteer for a lower grade on my final project, rather than risk exposing myself to other women who might not want to be friends with me?
I’ve been avoiding community way too long and it’s left me feeling like I’m dying on the vine.
No matter how much I’ve begged, Jesus keeps telling me, “No. You may not and cannot do this by yourself, because I didn’t design you that way. I will be your strength. You will only find healing within community. Now go get found.”
As if the conference message I heard t wasn’t confirmation enough, get a load of this.
My little girl kitty cat ran away four weeks ago. After about a week and a half, we gave up looking for her. I assumed a coyote or a car had gotten her. We’ve all been saddened by it. A neighbor who is also a church friend told me that she would keep looking, but after a couple weeks more, we all just gave up.
While I sat in the last session of the conference on Saturday, I picked up my phone and saw a message from my neighbor. She said that she had found and trapped a gray female cat with yellow eyes. I immediately texted my husband to get over there already and before I left the conference, he had sent back with a picture. It was my Lily. My little cat.
I rushed home immediately when the conference was over to find my daughter sitting in the laundry room with a skinny, dirty, terrified cat with what appeared to be a broken tail.
Four weeks ago this same kitty sat on my chest and purred as I stroked her fur.
Today when she saw me, she huddled beneath the laundry room sink and growled at me. She won’t come to me yet. She is terrified.
You see, she got close to me, to us before. But then something went horribly wrong. She got lost, confused, hurt maybe. We don’t know. But for four weeks she has fended for herself in the wild. I’m frankly amazed that she has survived at all.
After the trauma of being lost and alone, she doesn’t trust me. She’s keeping all of us at bay for right now.
I’m being as gentle as I can. I tried to pick her up and love on her, but she is too afraid. She growled and squirmed until she got free. Then she went back to her hiding place.
But I’m not giving up on her. I love that kitty.
And I’m just like her.
I used to have what Anne of Green Gables calls “bosom friends.” Then life happened, and ugliness happened, and rejection happened, and busyness happened, and I spent too long fending for myself in the wild world. Now I’m crouched in a corner thinking, “I’ve made it on my own this far, why would I need anyone else?”
But anyone looking in at me can see the fear in my eyes, the caked dirt on my fur, the kink in my broken tail. And the truth is, I’m craving connection like the grass craves rain in this Texas heat.
My cat can’t survive without me. And I can’t survive without true kindred friends.
It’s a crossroads. What am I going to do?
Well, I guess I’m going to put myself out there, make myself vulnerable. At least I’m going to try.
Will you encourage me? Hold me accountable?
And can I ask you a personal question? Are you, like me, afraid of relationships? For me, relationships with other women are the scariest ones of all. Can you relate? What’s your personal escape hatch? Can you tell about a risk you took when you were desperate? I’d love to hear your stories. Even if it’s just to discover that I’m not alone in my nakedness.